Sasha Dobson (from the EP Simple Things available as a self-release) by Dave Steinfeld
Sasha Dobson has an impressive resume. She grew up in a family of musicians, has released several solo albums over the last decade, and opened for Neil Young at Farm Aid. In addition, she is one-third of the trio Puss N Boots, along with Norah Jones and bassist Catherine Popper (PNB unveiled their excellent sophomore album, Sister, earlier this year). Now, with the release of her new EP Simple Things, Sasha Dobson steps back into the spotlight. Though she is based in New York City these days, Simple Things was recorded in her native California and produced by Vadim Canby. Sasha Dobson sticks to a trio format here as well, accompanied by Jay Lane on drums and the legendary Don Was on bass. It was a phone call from Don Was, in fact, that inspired her to write the songs for this EP.
The result is a four-song disc (played at 45RPM) that splits the difference between Pop and Jazz. As Puss N Boots fans know, Sasha Dobson has a lovely voice reminiscent of Bonnie Raitt. It suits these songs well and the intimacy of the arrangements lets her voice come to the fore. Side B of Simple Things is, to these ears, the superior half of the EP. Where the first two songs, ”Don’t Carry Me” and “Wanna Be Like You”, are pleasant enough, it is on the third song, “Where is the Love”, that Dobson really hits her stride. “Where Is the Love” is the most upbeat track of the four, boasting a sultry vocal and some casually funny lines (e.g. ‘Tell a tale that’s true / fucked up shit you do’). And the title track displays Sasha Dobson’s Jazz roots to great effect, ending Simple Things on a high note. My main complaint is that this EP is too short! (by Dave Steinfeld)
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Cary Morin (from the album Dockside Saints available as a self-release) (by Brian Rock)
Virtuoso Blues guitarist Cary Morin returns for his sixth album, Dockside Saints. Recorded at the fabled New Orleans Dockside Studios, this album drips with spicy, Cajun flavors. Still present are Morin’s expressive Piedmont Blues guitar picking and his Greg Allman meets John Hiatt vocals. But the musical spices of New Orleans infuse every note with an Emeril Lagasse “Bam!” burst of flavor. “Nobody Gotta Know” is the first course of this musical feast and it does not disappoint. Starting with a funky bass line, syncopated drums, piano and accordion, Cary Morin weaves a ‘what happens in New Orleans stays in New Orleans’ tale of misadventure about a friend who ‘got themselves too deep in the cup’. Sparse on details but big on bouncy, Zydeco rhythms; you don’t know exactly what happened, but you know it was definitely fun.
Cary Morin keeps the party rolling with the infectious Cajun-spiced, “Jamie Rae”, the funky instrumental “Cary’s Groove”, and the Allman Brothers inspired “Come the Rain”. Slowing down the pace a bit, Morin showcases his Greg Allman style Front Porch Blues on the smoldering “Prisoner”, the gently rolling “Blue Delta Home”, and the touching “Exception To The Rule”. The latter is a poetic surrender of ego to love where he confesses ‘I might be an exception to the rule… everything is better next to you’.
Cary Morin rounds out his musical feast in shades of Blues. “Chosen Road” showcases his familiar Piedmont Blues style, “Tonight” adds atmospheric strings to create a Gypsy Jazz sound, and “Valley Of The Chiefs” uses Folk Blues to recount a real life story of kidnapping and escape from his own family history. He testifies that ‘I have the power in my heart, I know’ in the soulful, Gospel Blues of “Because He Told Me So”. Staying true to the roots of the Blues, Cary Morin showcases sounds and styles from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Mississippi Delta. With more of a rural, ‘down home’ feel than its Northern cousins, Morin’s Blues taps into a soulful connection to the land and people of the South. At times earnest and insightful, and at times bouncy and buoyant, Dockside Saints is a spicy tribute to the birthplace of the Blues. (by Brian Rock)
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The Danberrys (from the album Shine available as a self-release)
Inspiration is song is what drives Dorothy Daniel who, along with musical/life partner Ben DeBerry, are the Nashville, Tennessee duo The Danberrys. The tracks on their recent release, Shine, share the same music motivation, Dorothy feelings that ‘I’ve had to reach and grow, to find something bigger than myself to keep going. That’s the kind of music that moves me. I want to hear something that makes me want to get up and keep going––to feel like a warrior’. The Danberrys set a scruffy trance groove as they make a shield of song with “Love Conquers War”, the rough-edged rhythm coursing under Shine’s words and music. A ragged rumble trudges down “The Road”, a heartbeat thump guides “Never Gone”, a triphammer patter teases “Holding the Bag”, and a rolling beat revolves around “Francis”.
A percussive path guides The Danberrys over the soundscape of Shine. The title track opens Shine, a seductive drumbeat pulling into the album as “Rain” hits the album’s exit as The Danberrys close out the album make a made clatter to wrap around their joy. Musical gem Darrell Scott joins The Danberrys in the shaggy second line groove of “The Mountain” as a sturdy beat taps a tambourine for “The River is Wide” as Shine falls prey to the flirtatious tug looking for an way out in “Undertow”.
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The 81s (from the album 2 Things and 118 Others as a self-release)
Tim Carroll has kept the rock and roll flame set high and hot since his first band, The New Wave Punk outfit, The Gizmo’s. His band days ended decades ago, and since Tim Carroll has continued to charge along carrying a growing solo catalog, as well as a few records with The 81s, the latest being 2 Things and 118 Others. A collaborative project with Tim Carroll on guitar and vocals along with Cameron Carrus on bass and Marco Giovino on drums. Lyrics for the songs were written by Tom Siering. The 81s know the drill of keeping it simple. The result is a glorious batch of uncomplicated rock and roll songs.
“Michael (End of the Line)” opens the record up with a call out on mucking up the planet noting ‘we are at the end of the line’, a lyric that get written on a big wall of sound. “She Don’t Want Me” comes from the Tom Petty neighborhood and “Nuke LaLoosh” digs with a slow and sludgy riff, perfect to back the line ‘sometimes you lose and sometimes it rains’. It is a song perfect to be the antithesis to everyone else receiving the participation trophy. Social media has been a social masquerade and Tim Carroll and company call it out on “Facebook”, pulling back the curtain to reveal even though ‘everyone’s lives are perfect on Facebook’ that the statement is untrue, and The 81s proclaim their beliefs with a big bouncy beat. Lines like ‘her legs are longer than a Tarantino film’ are perfect accompaniment to the multitudes of melody that live all over 2 Things and 118 Others, from the groove of “Mindbender” to the big riffs on “Four Way Stop”. The 81’s are equally a big arena Rock band as they are a sweaty bunch of DIY kids blowing amps and breaking strings in a dive punk club.
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Jim Bachmann (from the album Arizona Burrito available on Ripsnort Records)
Ushering in a comeback of mellow as a state of mind, Jim Bachmann uses his voice as a source of calm, encouraging for “Play That Pretty One You Know” while he is the patient man singing over a rail-bred beat in “Waiting on a Train” and the finger pointing in “Reap What You Sow” as he makes one last plea to a leaving lover in “Down on My Knees”. The songs are collected on Arizona Burrito, the recent release from Jim Bachmann.
The music of Jim Bachmann is a melting pot, Arizona Burrito soundtracking its tales with touches of Blues, Soul, Gospel, Rock’n’Roll, and Country. Meredith Moore shares the microphone and the bottle with Jim Bachmann as they celebrate of the final days of “Last of a Dying Breed” as SoCal outlaw songman Dallas Moore is along for the ride in Billy Joe Shaver’s “Live Forever”. Rock’n’Roll guitars are a clarion call for a honky tonk romp as Jim Bachmann drops a note in the suggestion box with “Let’s Put the Band Back Together”.
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Evan Ogden (from the album Undone as a self-release)
The audio light that dawns on Undone is a fractured symphony. Tendrils of acoustic sounds are a mist in opening segment “Sam Bass Chronicles 1”, the track a calling card for Evan Ogden as he opens his recent album release, Undone. The title track is a confessional, the past and present colliding as Evan Ogden attempts to untangle the words of parables and folk wisdom as Undone hammers out a beat underneath the questions of “You’ve Got to Wonder” and tenderly picks out notes as “Better Days” sifts through bad decisions looking for a glimmer of hope. Evan Ogden is the narrator for his words as “Everybody Knows Somebody” strums a honky tonk shuffle for a sad story as Undone uncorks a Country ramble for “Jim Beam Bottle” and Front porch Folk wraps around “The Great Speckled Bird”.
Within the tales on Undone, Evan Ogden works out demons and desires, reminding that knowing does not remove the past as much as let it in. For his part, Evan Ogden feels that Undone ‘is incredibly personal. There are a number of songs on this record that took me a while to come to terms with. Even though I’ve made peace with many of the them, there are still days where their shadows cast long’. The catharsis of a song helps to tear down the walls in “Thunderstorm” and weathers doubts in “Austin Rain” while Evan Ogden walks “Streets of Las Crucas” plucking border chords as he works on gratitude with “These Songs and a Guitar”.
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Charley Crockett (from the album Welcome to Hard Times available on Son of Davy Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
A strolling piano kicks off the latest from Charley Crockett, rolling into a mid-tempo melody that plays behind Crockett’s truisms, reminding us the ‘dice are loaded, and everything’s fixed, even a hobo would tell you this’. The title track and following cuts that make up Welcome to Hard Times are filled with similar statements and admissions, humanizing, down-to-earth, gut-punch narratives, delivered with Charley Crockett’s dry tone. Charley’s warm vocals and the information they convey come across as sought-after advice from a trusted friend. Beyond the lyrics grab are two-stepping melodies and acoustic blues that give the tales toe-tapping rhythms.
“Run Horse Run” is a punked-up, punchy tale where the man on the run in Crockett’s tale is also a horse on the track with a job to do, an audio support backing complete with a few Country Dick inspired ‘Hey-Ya’s’. Charley Crockett connects the dots between Classic Country and old school R&B as cuts like “Don’t Cry”, “Lilly My Dear”, and “Wreck Me” all come carry a sad, slow groove, a Roots nod to 1960’s Soul, the ones that are real tearjerkers. He keeps the vintage vibe alive when “Paint It Blue”, “Blackjack County Chain”, and “Poplar Tree” become Marty Robbins-inspired Western ballads. Welcome to Hard Times is as much a Country Soul record as it is a Classic Country record, Charley Crockett proving capable at both, able to pull off Sam Cooke as easy as Hank Williams. You could say his boots are comfortable on both sides of the fence, but Charley Crockett has pulled the fence down and plays in one big field. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Bill Kirchen (from the album The Proper Years available on The Last Music Company)
Collecting cuts from a musical output that ties together The Proper Years, Bill Kirchen revisits three albums released from 2006 to 2013. The common thread on The Proper Years is the lyrical wit and electric guitar riffs of Bill Kirchen. Bill’s ‘dieselbilly’ style nods to eighteen-wheeler Country AM, two and three minutes of make-you-smile humor and sweet Telecaster twang. Longtime musical friends appear on the compilation of the three releases, Hammer of the Honky Tonk Gods, Word to the Wise, and Seeds and Stems. Tour mate Nick Lowe is joined by Paul Carrack on the Everly Brothers influenced “Shelly’s Winter Love” while Norton Buffalo is in the band for a song celebrating old times in “Valley of the Moon”, and Elvis Costello in “Man at the Bottom of the Well”. The title cut for his first Proper Records release opens The Proper Years with “Hammer of the Honky Tonk Gods”, the track setting the stage for the Rockabilly groove of the album. While honky tonk tune heroes tip the scales on The Proper Years, Bill Kirchen turns his musical talent for a ride down a R&B highway with “Soul Cruisin’”, tramples his ever-present grin upside down with the sad Country story in “Skid Row in My Mind”, and the ragged Country Folk of Bob Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”.
Album number three, Seed and Stems, borrows its title from a Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen tune, the ‘hippie Country band Bill Kirchen co-founded in the San Francisco 1960’s, helping to usher in the Americana genre. His former frontman lends his piano skills to “I Don’t Work That Cheap” while original vocalist for Asleep at the Wheel, Chris O’Connell, steps up to the microphone to duet on Roger Miller’s “Husbands and Wives”. Folk royalty is beside Bill Kirchen for The Proper Years when Maria Muldaur sides with Bill in opinion and song on “Ain’t Got Time for the Blues” and Dan Hicks is found on the title track from Proper album number two, “Word to the Wise”. Bill Kirchen is a happy man, singing and playing the soundtrack for a fifty-year career and smiling as he tributes trucks with “Mama Hated Diesels” and pulls his riff rig into the “Truck Stop at the End of the World”. Carpooling the Commander Cody hit, a cast of musical characters get name and melody checked on a version of “Hot Rod Lincoln” as Bill Kirchen exits The Proper Years picking and scratching at his six-string in “Talkin’ About Chicken”.
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Margo Price (from the album Good Life available on That’s How Rumors Get Started available on Loma Vista Recordings) (by Bryant Liggett)
She’s a founding member of 21st Century Country musicians credited with ‘saving’ country music. Margo Price sits among Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson and Tyler Childers, songwriters and musicians whose brand of Country music has nothing to do with contemporaries seen on CMT, and everything to do with Grand Ol’ Opry performers of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Margo Price is also an ace at throwing a curveball, one that might blow past some fans afraid to swing at the pitch as she defines Country music on her own terms. That’s How Rumors Get Started is her latest, a cool dose of Roots music loaded with grace, groove and grit.
Margo Price sings ‘word travels faster than a whisper in the wind on the title track opening cut, a piano ballad that is quiet and quaint with nary a whiff of twang. She blasts into “Twinkle Twinkle”, an autobiographical story where Margo quips ‘if it don’t break you, it may just make you rich, you might not get there, and on the way it’s a bitch’. It’s a Country Funk tune delivered with a scuzzy riff. Backing vocals and church organ support the gospel-leaning “Hey Child” while “Heartless Mind’ is a time travel track going back to the 1980’s, a New Wave prime for a John Hughes movie. The closest Margo Price comes to traditional Country is “Prisoner of the Highway”, a road tale where you can taste the asphalt under the tires and the need to be gone, starring by Margo Price in not the greatest scenario. That’s How Rumors Get Started is Margo Price spreading her wings. Less Country, more Blues, R&B and Pop, she is clearly comfortable going in whichever direction she pleases.
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Maple Run Band (from the album Maple Run Band on Back Pasture Music)
Southwest desert dust rises from the world-weary rhythm trudging beside “Last of the West Kansas Cowboys”. Texas two-stepping with plate-licking clean guitar licks in “You’re Gonna Make Me Cry Again”, an outlaw history lesson exploding like the fireworks over Oklahoma City in “Independence Day” and a Country shuffle swaying with “Queen of Labrador City”. In the heart of New England, Vermont-based Maple Run Band turn the musical pages on stories and songs, softly swinging to a Country beat.
The guitar twang sparkles as the Maple Run Band pick a take-no-prisoners word of advice with inspiring, encouraging, and whisper-in-your-ear wisdom for “Keep on Truckin’”. Promises are made on a Country Rock rhythm with a bless-your-heart kiss off in “Catch You Down the Line” as a slowly chugging groove drifts under “Ma Bell”. Maple Run Band wrangle a Rock’n’Roll beat into barely contained submission for “Borderline”, wake “Monday Morning” up with a sunshine sway, and strum a mountain music dreamscape to remember Roger Miller’s “Engine Engine #9”.
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